Everything I Wish I Knew Before I Traveled

This is the text version of Lois' talk about Traveling during the Belle de Jour Fair at Eastwood City, Manila for empowered girls who want to take flight. Most of this is stuff we learned from our travels. Remember that all advice is autobiographical. Your mileage may vary.

Belle de Jour Fair 9

Trippin' by Sole Sisters

If you were given the opportunity to travel to 9 countries for 6 months under 100,000PHP would you take on the challenge? (the girls all answered with a resounding YES!!!)

To top it off,  you've never traveled long term, never traveled alone and didn't even own a backpack! Do you think it's doable?
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We did exactly that! Sole Sisters is the story of 2 girls who quit their job to travel the world. Chichi and I met when we worked at the same company and we shared a passion for travel. We had no prior travel and blogging savvy but together we planned and went on a 6 month trip around India and Southeast Asia. After our journey, we went back home to share our story and reinvent our lives.
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At the beginning of our trip, Chichi and I were glampackers. All we thought about was luxury travel, looking great on the travel photos and still being fashionable while on the road.
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Halfway through our backpacking adventures, we were completely transformed. We started caring less about how we looked and focused more on the whole travel experience. We learned to budget our depleting funds and tracked our expenses. We talked to travelers and locals alike and embraced the poorpacker's life!

How did we do it? I'm sharing with you everything I wish I knew before I traveled:

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What's the first thing you need in order to start traveling? Money of course. Here's how we were able to save enough money to go traveling for 6 months.

Trippin' by Sole Sisters

Minimize your spending by skipping the inessentials. Your daily Starbucks coffee, monthly shopping sprees and weekly mani and pedi are inessentials. Have a No Bills Policy. Cut off your post-paid plan, cable and internet bill and credit card spending. I even moved closer to the office in order to save money on transportation costs. All the money you save should be deposited to a separate savings account that you can't easily withdraw from.

Trippin' by Sole Sisters

When it comes to everything you've accumulated, you can Keep, Give or Sell. Keep the things you absolutely can't live without and give or sell the rest. And remember 3-month rule: If you haven’t worn or used that item in the past 3 months, then you won’t be using them in the future. Before our trip, Chichi launched the Every Dress Counts campaign where she sold most of her clothes, shoes and bags. She sold them online and through friends and colleagues. Through that campaign, she raised 54,600PHP- that's more than half of her travel fund! I recently organized a Traveler's Garage Sale where 6 travelers who were about to go on Epic Journeys raised funds to jumpstart their adventures.

Come up with your own ideas on how to raise funds in order to travel. Start small like freelancing or earning online.

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Once you've started to save up for your escape fund, you can plan for your trip.

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I seriously hate this part. I don't enjoy researching the itinerary or route. I don't like pencil-pushing and logistics. So I left the pre-trip planning to my boyfriend Hutch and my Sole Sister Chichi. For lazy travelers like myself, here's the simple version: Start with listing all the places you want to visit. Plot them on the map. Do the research on how you can get from one place to the other. See if can travel overland or need to take flights.

One important thing is: Don’t backtrack. It's a waste of time and money. And lastly, Be flexible. On our itinerary, we had initially planned on going from our 7th country, Thailand, to Malaysia. But while in Chiang Mai, we met a lot of crazy couchsurfers who were going to Myanmar. We changed our minds and went to Myanmar with them and that became one of the highlights of our journey.

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Get online support. Sign up for airline newsletters to know ahead when they're having low fares and seat sales. When we planned our trip, we learned a lot from travel bloggers like Dave of The Longest Way Home, Nina of Just Wandering and Flip of Flipnomad, among others. Connect with travelers who have been to the places you want to go to and ask them questions. One great decision we've made was to start our own travel blog. We weren't experts. We were just 2 girls who were about to start a big adventure. And we needed all the help we could get. It's the best way to connect to a huge online community of travelers who are helpful in assisting you with your plans.

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Do your research well when it comes to visas. Know how much it costs (if any), for how long is the duration and what documents you need to secure. If you don't do your research, you'll pay for this mistake dearly (like we did). I had flown to Thailand before and was given a 30 day visa at the airport immigration. So I assumed we would be given the same duration upon crossing the border from Cambodia to Thailand. Wrong. If you cross the border overland into Thailand, you're only given 15 days. So we had to do an emergency visa run before our visa ran out. That was an unexpected expense.

If you travel for more than a month, do get travel insurance. You never know what's going to happen on the road so it's best to get covered.

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Guys never have this problem. But girls always have a hard time packing, don't you agree? You can still backpack and be chic at the same time!

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Make sure you only bring the necessities. If you can buy it at your destination, don’t pack it. One good trick is to pack and the take only half. Yes, just HALF. Believe me, you wouldn't need more than that. We learned this the hard way. We started out with 15kgs in our backpacks. But towards the end of our trip, I forgot to purchase luggage allowance and we had to downgrade to the 7kgs hand carried luggage allowance. We left more than half of our stuff along the way! 

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Do we need to bring makeup while traveling? Sure, you don't need to look grungy even when backpacking! But just bring what you need. Tinted moisturizer with SPF, cream blush, lip balm, loose powder and you're all set! Bring basic tops but don't forget to accessorize. You don't need to bring loads of accessories. Just buy them as you go along. Chichi brought bracelets from every country we visited which made nice souvenirs. Bring colorful scarves and headbands to liven up your outfit.
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How do you make sure you don't end up stranded and penniless on the road? Budget your travel funds and keep track of your spending.

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Whenever you can, skip flights and travel overland. Imagine yourself getting on a motorbike and going through breathtaking landscapes. Or biking around the majestic temples of Angkor Wat. How about taking trains, trying delicacies and talking to locals and fellow travelers? Sure, it's not always comfortable. But it's the best way to experience a country.

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Instead of always staying at hotels, try alternatives like hostels. You won't be staying  in the room most of the time anyway. You can try Roomarama for short-term rentals. You still get the privacy for less the cost. You may want to try Couchsurfing. It's a traveler's community where you can stay at a local's place for free. You may also host a traveler in your country. It's a great venue for cultural exchange and we've met so many wonderful people all over the world through this community.

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Food is going to take up a lot of your budget. So how can you eat well without running broke? Try streetfood. Go where the locals eat. Usually, if a place is packed, the food is good and cheap. Ask fellow travelers you meet for their recommendations.

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Be open to trying new food. It's a major part of the travel experience. We've had some crunchy bugs in Laos. We ate curry with our bare hands in India. We tasted raw shellfish with spices and peanuts in Vietnam. They were so delicious! I can attest that Filipinos have an iron stomach. Thankfully, we never got sick in the entire 6-months we've been traveling.

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How do you have the Ultimate Travel Experience? I have only one advice for you: Don't be a tourist. Don't just go to a country, take a lot of pictures then leave. Talk to the locals. Ask about their lives. Tell them about yours. For many parts of the world, you are their walking newspaper and living TV set. In places like Myanmar, you are their only access to the outside world. Make sure they get a good impression.

Go off the beaten path. Leave the guidebook every once in a while. We made a big decision while we were in Thailand and just decided to sell off our Lonely Planet guidebook. It wasn't only heavy and bulky, we also needed the extra cash. But it was a wise (though scary) move. It forced us to ask locals for directions, ask travelers for recommendations and rely on our own instincts.

At this point, I just made the photos do the talking:

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If there's anything you can take away from my talk, it's this: Start traveling and start traveling now. It's the best learning experience you can ever give yourself.

What about you? What are things you wish you knew before you started traveling?

Thanks to Belle de Jour for inviting us to speak at their fabulous Fair and Power Planner Launch. We loved the opportunity to talk to young girls and encourage them to start their own adventures. 

We're giving away some Belle de Jour planners on the next post so stay tuned for that.

Still learning and itching to travel again,
Sole Sister Lois
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72 Responses so far.

  1. Kalurkey! 

    Great job on your talk, Lois! I'm sure the BDJ girls got really inspired to go out and explore the world! :D

  2. Ed says:

    pwede na tong pang eBook gals! :D

  3. Huwaw! Pang inflight/travel magazine tong article. My favorite part would be "How to pack well?" .lol  We might be heading to Cambodia + Vietnam next year, what's the best way to spend 4D/3N on those places.?

  4. Lois says:

    Thanks Nina! We can't stop thanking you for all the help you gave us. You also inspire so many people to travel! Esp solo female travelers.

  5. Lois says:

    OO nga Ed no. Why didn't we think of that? Maybe we should do just that!

  6. Lois says:

    Thanks KillerFiller! It's really hard for girls to pack :-) Naku your timeframe is so short for the 2 countries. Are you flying to both? Do Angkor Wat of course and then Saigon is nice. Enjoy your vacation! The food is amazing in Vietnam.

  7. Sheila says:

    You ladies are amazing. Cannot believe you did so many things and saw so many places with 100,000 pesos. You make traveling so affordable. Thanks for the tips

  8. Astrid Zoe Reburiano says:

    On some trips I'm a glampacker. On others, I'm a poorpacker. Luckily I have small clothes. I love the moleskine-ish photos!

  9. pinaytraveljunkie says:

    After reading this post, I feel like I just attended your talk! You girls are awesome, so many things changed right before your readers' (including me) eyes.  Pang chic telenovela ;p

  10. calai says:

    wow...quitting your job to travel for a few months, not knowing what's next is a courageous act...good tips too! ive been traveling within SEA for quite a while, but u gave me more reasons not to stop traveling...thanks for these tips...it'll help me maybe not now, but soon =)

  11. Ed says:

    you should Lois, it would be great pamportfolio na rin. at least you can let women download copies. pandagdag subscribers din! :D

  12. dong ho says:

    now that's how you do it perfectly! sharing this to friends.

  13. Lois says:

    Thanks Cindy! Glad you liked it!

  14. Lois says:

    Thanks so much Sheila. I'm sure you can do it too! Traveling is indeed affordable if you know how to budget and start being a "poorpacker".

  15. Lois says:

    We know what you mean Astrid. Sometimes we're also confused on the glampacking or poorpacking bit. But one thing's for sure, we love to travel! Chichi takes credit for the photo collage. Great work.

  16. Lois says:

    Thanks Gaye! That means so much coming from you. You really helped us even in the beginning! Yeah, we changed a lot. Travel really does that huh?

  17. Lois says:

    I wish we had your skills Ed! I need to write you one of these days. I don't kn0w how to make an ebook. Much more, make it downloadable!

  18. Lois says:

    Please don't stop traveling Calai! Keep those itchy feet walking! Thanks for dropping by and do share some travel tips in the future! We would love to hear it.

  19. Lois says:

    Thanks so much dong. We really learned so much in 6 months! Thanks for being part of the community that helped us along the way!

  20. pasas says:

    great story lois next stop europe? 

  21. Lois says:

    Actually, Europe came before this trip. Much cheaper pa nga yung 3 months ko dun eh. About half the budget of the SEA trip.

  22. Great job putting this post together Lois, looks great with all those badges and graphics. I might have to hire you soon to do my PR ;) 

  23. Lois says:

    Wow, that's a seriously big compliment coming from you Dave! Thanks so much! We have learned from a lot of people including you and we can't help but share it with others.

  24. Flipnomad says:

    i agree :-) pede na itong pang ebook :-) congrats on the opportunities coming your way Lois and Chichi...

  25. congrats lois and chichi! stay inspired and keep inspiring! :)

  26. 100,000 for just 6 months?! for all those countries? now, i seriously need to re-examine my budgeting skills.. thanks for the inspiration and more power!!!

  27. Lois says:

    Thanks so much Gael! We appreciate all the suppport you've given us. So happy to part of an awesome travel community with the Pinoy Travel Bloggers!

  28. Lois says:

    We didn't know it was possible to spend so little as well Joan. But then we met other backpackers who spent the same amount but for twice the duration- 1 year! It's really possible! Thanks for taking the time to write us a note and we wish you many happy adventures!

  29. crazy beautiful says:

    i love your talk, Lois! i even posted it in my blog, sharing to my readers what I have learned from you :)

  30. Lois says:

    Awww thanks for sharing crazy beautiful! Really appreciate that. I wish I knew your website so I can check it out...

  31. RV Escatron says:

    WOW! basing on the photos in cambodia, you actually stayed in the most awesome hostel in the world! (to me at least, hihihi) 

    information about the world of travel is indeed shrinking bit by bit! happy travails :)

  32. Lois says:

    That's right RV, that hostel was one of the best ones. I agree, it's sometimes hard to get a nice cheap hostel. Especially ones without the bedbugs!

    We wish you many happy adventures too!

  33. pure awesomeness! more opportunities to share your adventures!

  34. Lois says:

    James! It's you! Thanks so much for the support. We really love sharing the joys of travel!

  35. Pa-talk talk na lang kayo now, Chi! d=

    Lecky to. Love your blog.

  36. Journeying Pinay says:

    traveling around was a dream. that was before. read this. and you will get so much inspiration and motivation to get on your feet. and start to plan your travels. now. no dreaming. no waiting. plan well. and am sure, you'll be in so many places in a short time, you could have never imagined or believed that you can do it. i did.

    sharing to you what i shared on my wall.

  37. Journeying Pinay says:

    traveling around was a dream. that was before. read this. and you will get so much inspiration and motivation to get on your feet. and start to plan your travels. now. no dreaming. no waiting. plan well. and am sure, you'll be in so many places in a short time, you could have never imagined or believed that you can do it. i did.

    sharing to you what i shared on my wall: http://www.facebook.com/journeyingpinay

  38. I love the composition of this post, I get bored reading long posts but yours won't allow me! Grabe, parang may magic mga posts nio! Keep it up!

  39. Hope you gals like this: http://www.lyndsaycabildo.com/sole-sisters-from-glampackers-to-poorpackers/

  40. Lois says:

    Wow! thanks for sharing this with your friends! We really appreciate those touching words JP!

  41. Lois says:

    We're so glad you loved it LA! We do our best to always make it interesting.

  42. Lois says:

    Wow! Thanks for the feature and for sharing your entry with us!

  43. D. says:

    Very inspiring. *new stalker of your blog* :D

  44. Claudine says:

    wow.. 100k in 6 months?? i've never travelled much in SE Asia but have been to Europe, Japan & Australia twice.  I'm not a backpacker but I'm not a luxury traveller either.  Try China.. let me know and I could help you with an itinerary.. :)

  45. Lois says:

    Thanks for dropping by Dianne! Glad you were inspired :-)

  46. Lois says:

    Maybe it's time to explore our SE Asian neighbors Claudine. Thanks for your offer. e might take you up on that soon. Kaya mo din yung budget travel na yan!

  47. heysummah says:

    I was looking for an informative blog for my cambodia trip on september with my best friend and my husband.  and i bumped into ur interesting blog in cyperspace, since then i've been stalking you guys ever since. I read your entries even if its prohibited at work.. ssshhh... U have sprinkled ur wanderlust dust on me big time..haha.. I can't wait for my own adventure in the future! More power to both of u!

  48. LoRaine says:

    Wow! :) This post is really amazing! :) I learned a lot. :) I'm hoping to travel more this year. :) Thank you for the tips! :)

  49. hi sole sole sisters! really amazed with the Php100k/6months/9countries... quite a shocker since my beau and I travel at Php15k to Php20k per province (in the Philippines/excluding airtix) for just about 5days, and we're not talking of class A hotels/resorts...  I was just thinking of not pushing with my 18-day Visayas tour this June (though I bought airtix already)... you ladies inspire me to tighten our budget hehe... and calls for some serious cost analysis on our travels... Kudos to you both and good luck on your 21day challenge :)

  50. Michellet Delacruz says:

    Hi :) my friend and I will have our backpacking trip this April. We are planning to start our journey from Vietnam to Cambodia then Thailand (10-day trip). Maybe you can share with us your itinerary and some tips =D . How does the application of visa from one country to another works? We will be re-entering Vietnam on our last day. Thanks guys and hooray for traveling! :)

  51. faye says:


    I browsed your blog and this article caught my eyes. Can you tell me how long it took you to save up the money you needed to travel?

    Nice blog by the way! ;)

  52. Galing nito!

    Tama yung sabi nila, “When preparing to travel, lay out all your clothes and all your money. Then take half the clothes and twice the money”

    kung kaya.. ^_^

  53. Macy says:

    this is very helpful and you girls are inspiring..i wish i can travel like that too! =)

  54. Jem says:

    Loved your blog, girls.  I was going to do exactly the same as you - 9 countries in 6 months... and fell in love with just about every place I went to and ended up doing just 4 countries (Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and Burma) in 15 months!!  I can't wait to go back when I have the money and finish off the rest of the tour.  I reckon about 6 years should do it!!!  :))  Only one point to add: I travelled alone which gave me the incentive and time to try and learn the language of each country I visited; this encouraged and allowed me to make friends with the locals, even those who spoke little or no English.  So don't be afraid of travelling alone in SE Asia - it's safe and you'll never be bored as you'll meet so many locals and other travellers!!  Thanks again... Jem

  55. FaithG says:

    Wow.. I hope I can do this too.. =) Good job girls.. =)

  56. Belatedbloomer says:

    Cool blog, adventurous and brave sole sisters! :) Maybe one day I'll have saved enough money and guts to do the same.


  57. Lois says:

    Beautiful words! No dreaming. No waiting. So happy to "meet" a lot of traveling Pinays online!

  58. Lois says:

    Thanks for stalking us!! Do share your adventures with us in the future!

  59. Lois says:

    Happy travels LoRaine!

  60. Lois says:

    Thanks for dropping by Pie! Please share your Visayas adventures with us! Would be happy to hear them. Sometimes it's cheaper to travel when it's for long term. You don't move around so much :)

  61. Lois says:

    Sorry I read this too late Michellet! Can you please send us an email at solesisters(dot)weare(at)gmail so we can address your questions further?

  62. Lois says:

    It took us 1 year to save 100,000 PHP. Kayang kaya yan Faye!

  63. Lois says:

    Hahahah love that! Pwede bang gamitin to?

  64. Lois says:

    You can also do it Macy!

  65. Lois says:

    I totally agree Jem! Thanks for sharing those precious tips. On the next trip, I want to stay long enough in a place to become conversational in the language.

  66. Lois says:

    You can do it Faith!

  67. Lois says:

    Thank you! Even though you're a "belated bloomer" you can definitely do it too!

  68. wena says:

    thank you for sharing your travel experiences....

  69. Jayson Canonico says:

    Great adventure Lois and Chichi.. I plan to do this travel experience.. :)

  70. Kaiye Pallarco says:

    Boo me! Ngayon ko lang nabasa 'to! Thank you for this! Big big help!

  71. Czarina Nacionales says:

    This article makes me want to travel right NOW. 

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